Membership issues coming to the forefront

By Rex HoggardOctober 10, 2012, 7:58 pm

There is a turf tussle brewing and it has nothing to do with the ongoing cross-border skirmishes between Turkey and Syria, although the seeds of discontent seemed to have been sown this week along the Mediterranean Sea at the posh Antalya resort.

In the same news cycle, word emerged from this week’s Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals, a non-sanctioned big-money boondoggle featuring eight of the world’s top players, that the Turkish Open would become the penultimate event on the European Tour schedule in 2013.

Not long before that newsbreak, European Tour players learned via a memo that the circuit would begin counting starts in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Seve Trophy toward their minimum starts total (13), which prompted Tiger Woods, however innocently, to suggest that he would he consider taking up membership on the European circuit.

“I don't know what my numbers are as I know I played 19 in the (United) States this year and whether it crosses over or not but I will again look at it,” Woods told the Associated Press.

Writing teachers would call all this foreshadowing. A prologue to what is shaping up to be a power grab between the PGA Tour and European circuit.

According to multiple sources the Turkish Open, BMW Masters and WGC-HSBC Champions will serve as a run-up to the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour’s year-long finale.

Replace the phrase “run-up” with “playoff” and “Dubai” for “Atlanta” and one sees where this is going. All that’s missing is a FedEx Cup logo and an endless parade of points projections.

Europe is making it easier for the likes of Woods to join their tour by effectively reducing the minimum number of starts by including participation in a Ryder or Presidents cup. Although the move was intended to help American-based Europeans, like Luke Donald and Justin Rose, it has the added benefit of making the European Tour more attractive to potential American members.

Think of it as a “Buy 12 starts, get the 13th start for free” campaign.

The move could also create some interesting scenarios, particularly in Woods’ case. If, and that’s a huge if, Woods takes up European Tour membership, he could play the four majors, four World Golf Championships and whatever cup for nine of his 13 starts.

The final four would likely be a mix of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship or Dubai Desert Classic, one of which he’s played seven times since 2001; Turkish Open, which would dovetail with a reported endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines, and DP World Tour Championship.

Here’s the rub, because of European Tour regulations Woods’ 13th start would have to be somewhere in Continental Europe – perhaps the BMW PGA Championship, the circuit’s flagship event which is historically played the same week as Colonial and not included Woods in the field since 1997.

Yet according to PGA Tour guidelines Woods would only be allowed three competing-event releases to go play in Europe unless he plays more than 20 events in the United States or is given special dispensation by commissioner Tim Finchem.

Woods hasn’t played more than 20 Tour events in a season since 2005 and he currently has 19 starts with no additional U.S. stops scheduled in 2012, which leaves the ball in Finchem’s court.

And if recent history is any indication Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., may not completely embrace Woods’ newfound globetrotting ways. Just this week, for example, the Tour granted competing-event releases for all eight players at the Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals based on a quid pro quo to play the Open, this week’s Tour stop, at least once over the next three years according to multiple sources.

The Tour is rightfully keen to protect a loyal sponsor in John Fry, but it is the players who are caught in the middle of a rapidly shrinking global schedule. Or, to put it in cash context, they can play for a $900,000 winner’s check this week in California or a $1.5 million bonanza in Turkey, or $300,000 for last place.

From the Tour’s point of view these events don’t suggest global golf is heading toward critical mass. In fact, since the advent of the FedEx Cup in 2007 there has been less of a strain on cross-ocean participation according to officials.

“It hasn’t been an issue for several years now,” said Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of communications and international affairs. “We have seen the number of conflicting event releases go down over the last seven, eight, nine years. There are a lot of reasons for that. I don’t know that we think it will be much of an issue going forward.”

Perhaps, but it doesn’t take a risk-assessment team to outline the alternative.

The Tour’s move to a split-calendar schedule, combined with the rumored “run-up” events to the Dubai finale, could, in theory, change that dynamic and put the Tour and events like the Open, which is slated to kick off the 2013-14 season next fall, in a bind.

What if push suddenly became shove, and the Tour was dealt a pair of globetrotting superstars in Woods and Rory McIlroy, who is already a European Tour member, with divergent agendas?

What if quid pro quos, like this week’s agreement with the “Turkish Eight,” became less accepted and more acrimonious? How far would the Tour go to protect its sponsors and its brand?

As the global golf schedule continues to shrink we may find out.

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

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Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”

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The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”